Category: Bipolar Disorders
Poor mental health literacy (Kim, Saw, & Zane, 2015) and high levels of perceived mental health stigma (Cook, 2007; Crisp, Gelder, Rix, Meltzer, & Rowlands, 2000) are possible reasons that many college students with mental health problems do not seek treatment (Eisenberg, Hunt, Speer, & Zivin, 2011). No published work has explored mental health literacy, stigma, and perceptions of need for treatment with respect to bipolar disorder (BD) in college students, despite the fact that BD is not uncommon in this population (Blanco et al., 2008). BD also causes high levels of functional impairment (Goetzel, Hawkins, Ozminkowski, & Wang, 2003; World Health Organization, 2001) especially when untreated (Keck et al., 1998). The current study is a first step towards understanding mental health literacy for and stigma about BD among undergraduate college students.
Students (n = 549) at Oklahoma State University read a validated BD vignette (Ellison, Mason, & Scior, 2015), answered corresponding questions assessing knowledge about the symptoms and causes of BD (Kim et al., 2015), and took a measure of mental health stigma (Attitudes to Mental Illness Questionnaire [AMIQ]; Luty, Fekadu, Umoh, & Gallagher, 2006).
The average AMIQ score was -2.33 (SD = 3.32), reflecting considerably negative and stigmatized views of “John,” the vignette character. On average, participants judged John’s problems to be in the substantial to severe range, and indicated that he should probably or definitely seek professional help. Forty-two percent of the sample correctly identified John as having BD; this was the most commonly-assigned diagnosis. Most participants (83.1%) said they had not experienced problems/issues similar to those described in the vignette. Participants who reported that they had experienced similar problems showed less stigma, believed John’s problems were less severe, and thought John was less in need of treatment (all p < .05). Those who correctly identified John as having BD reported more stigma, believed John’s problems were more severe, thought John was more in need of treatment, and were also more informed about the causes and effective treatment of BD (all p < .05).
Our findings suggest that stigma towards BD is high among college students, while mental health literacy about the condition is fairly low. This combination of poor mental health literacy, combined with high stigma, may contribute to students hesitating to seek help if they develop symptoms of BD. Given the typically serious repercussions of untreated BD, this is concerning. Development of interventions to increase mental health literacy and decrease stigma towards BD in college populations, similar to what has been done for eating disorders (Gratwick-Sarll & Bentley, 2014), is recommended.